(Thanks to CLASSICAL WISDOM)
Although the Antonine Plague would have little influence over the arts or Roman culture, its social and political effects have left an indelible mark on the pages of history. With it, the plague brought the death knell of the Roman Empire, and would herald in a time of constant upheaval, betrayal, and—some would argue—insanity at the hands of a capricious dictator.
But, perhaps what we should also remember is the effect the plague had on Roman society. Amid the terror and confusion, Romans gave in to believing falsehoods, behaving badly, and acting without true understanding and honour.
Marcus’ thoughts had been plagued by another pestilence, and according to his writings in the Meditations, he was deeply troubled by what he observed. His beloved Rome was descending into chaos, wanton acts, denying fact in favour of fiction, and choosing lies over truth and justice. Perhaps we have something to learn from the following reflection of his,
“Real good luck would be to abandon life without ever encountering dishonesty, or hypocrisy, or self-indulgence, or pride. But the ‘next best voyage’ is to die when you’ve had enough. Or are you determined to lie down with evil? Hasn’t experience even taught you that—to avoid it like the plague? Because it is a plague—a mental cancer—worse than anything caused by tainted air or an unhealthy climate. Disease like that can only threaten your life; this one attacks your humanity.” Meditations, IX.2
Marcus died in 180 CE, likely of the plague mentioned which started in 165 CE and claimed 2000 Romans a day. Smallpox was the likely cause.